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CHENNAI – Priceless emerald sivalingams without security in temples

Priceless emerald sivalingams without security in temples

K Praveen Kumar, TNN 30 October 2009, 03:03am IST
CHENNAI: When the idol wing of the economic offence wing seized an emerald sivalingam from two men in the city last Monday, many could not believe that the little idol was worth Rs 50 crore. There are many more priceless emerald sivalingams located in various temples across the state, without adequate security.

Neither the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department nor the Archeological Survey of India has the complete list of the temples which has these priceless antiques. However, it is believed that the seven temples, known as the Sapthavidangal and 27 associated temples known as Upavidangal have these emerald sivalingams. Two such idols from the Neeladhatchiamman Koil in Nagapattinam and Thyagaraja Swamy temple in Tirukaravasal were stolen in 1992.

What is more pathetic is that the HR&CE department does not have a list of the priceless antiques available with the temples under the department. Sources in the department say that there is no effort on part of the department to survey and list out these properties in the near future. So these antiques remain in poorly guarded temples, which could be broken into without much difficulty.
Dr S Suresh of Intach, consultants to ASI for renovation and restoration works, said that the temples under the supervision of ASI, which are not more than a few hundreds, are the best preserved and secured in the state. “However, not many are under ASI’s supervision,” he added.

It is only now, after several reports about idol thefts from ancient temples were reported, the government has realised the importance of having better security in temples. After the seizure of emerald sivalingam, weighing 990 grams and estimated to cost more than Rs 50 crore, the HR&CE minister convened a high-level meeting to discuss security to the 38,465 temples registered under the HR&CE department.

The meeting discussed setting up of an exclusive temple protection. At present, police personnel are being deputed for security of temple alongs with private security. However, the new plan is to have a force under the HR&CE department.
“The plan is at a very premature stage. The suggestion is to have an exclusive temple protection force for which the recruitment would be done by the department itself. We will also be responsible for training of the selected personnel, including weapon training. We have to first formulate plans for this proposal and submit it to the government,” HR&CE commissioner PR Shampath told The Times Of India.

He added that last month, the government had created a corpus fund of Rs 5 crore to fix burglar alarms in temples falling under its purview. “At present we have burglar alarms fixed in 380 temples. With the new fund, we will fix the alarms in all the remaining temples,” the commissioner added.

There are several other ancient temples which are not under the department, and are still governed by mutts. Though HR&CE has a supervisory role in these temples, matters regarding security and other issues are decided by the temple management committees.

Idol wing officials said that though several recommendations were forwarded to the government regarding security to the temples, very little has been done. “The handicrafts department, which certifies idols, has to be sensitised on this aspect. Smugglers approach the textile department with an antique idol after declaring it as a newly-made one. They did not even bother to look at the idol and gives the certificate,” an idol wing official said.

Similarly, idol wing’s demand to keep them in consultation regarding any individual trying to send idols abroad has gone unheard. “If they give us the photographs of the idols and details about the exporter, we can do a character antecedents check and also cross check our lost idols registry. But they have not taken this suggestion seriously. Similarly, private couriers are allowed to send parcels of up to 10 kg abroad. So many idols are being sent via private couriers,” the official added.

praveen.kumar8@timesgroup.com

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